The year 2011 saw South Korea deepen bilateral cooperation with the United States while building its status as a global player on the international stage. These developments were facilitated by broader regional dynamics—particularly with respect to Japan and China—that helped push Washington and Seoul closer together. Key issues with the potential to redirect South Korea's bilateral and global trajectories in the coming months include the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the death of Kim Jong-il and policy toward North Korea, and election year politics in South Korea.
For the Obama administration, unforeseen dynamics in East Asia over the past year have escalated the importance of the U.S.-ROK alliance to unprecedented levels for the United States. But the alliance remains vulnerable to external shocks, rendering the continuation of the current phase of unmitigated harmonious ties far from certain.